Sup y’all? =) Pres Hoodie here, somehow still alive post-MAGFest 2016 (damn, that was a crazy, wonderful adventure!). In the aftermath of such, I’m bringing you an interview with a cool cat that I’ve been acquainted with since my very first MAGFest (MAG 9). It also happens to be the event where he got his start performing live chipmusic. There’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of him and his imminent sophomore album, ‘Lunaria’. Yup, of course I’m talking about Dan Behrens aka Danimal Cannon! Enjoy!
Hoodie: Sup Dan? Welcome to the blog!
To kick things off, give us a quick rundown of who you are and what you’re about.
Danimal Cannon: Hello, I’m Danimal Cannon! I’m most well known for my progressive metal tinged Game Boy jams and guitar shredding. I’m gearing up to release my 3rd album ‘Lunaria‘ on March 11!
Hoodie: Minds are gonna be blown all over the damn place on that date, no doubt about it. In the meantime, let’s talk a little bit about what’s lead you to this point in your musical career. For starters, where did your musicianship begin?
Danimal: Oh man, seriously? When I was 11 I watched the live concerts from Metallica’s “Live Shit: Binge & Purge” on VHS and had the uncontrollable desire to pick up the acoustic guitar in my basement. It only had 2 strings but I didn’t care. I taught myself, and it gets pretty fuzzy after that, but by age 17 I was a reasonably decent guitar player somehow.
I got into recording audio by recording guitar riffs into my answering machine and then practicing writing leads to perform over the playback. If you called my house at exactly the right time in 1997, you would have heard some pretty sick riffs.
Hoodie: hahaha Please tell me you still have those “answering machine” messages somewhere.
Danimal: I wish.
So Metallica, 2 stringed acoustic guitars and answering machines got you rolling. Where’d it go from there?
Danimal: The next logical conclusion: I started playing in shitty metal bands. Nu-metal was in full swing and I wasn’t buying what they were selling. This caused me to get into technical playing and progressive music. I refused to play with effects for a long time because I saw a lot of guitarists using them as a crutch. I was trying too hard.
Hoodie: Yeah, it’s possible you were. hahaha
But wow, nu-metal actually caused something good to happen musically. Besides, of course, Godsmack. Because they’re awesome. ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ
Danimal: Hey man, I had a website about Godsmack.
Hoodie: I recall. ;) (I won’t link that here, I promise).
Danimal: Maybe I was buying *a little* of what nu-metal was selling.
Hoodie: Now we’re being honest. ;) And tbh, I think most of us did the same during that musical era.
How long did the shitty metal bands phase last? When did worlds collide and you began delving into chip & VGM as a musician?
Danimal: In 2003 I discovered a pretty nifty website/artist by the name of METROID METAL. I downloaded the tunes and joined the forums there. A year later I was recording my own MegaMan remixes. Around that time I also discovered a monthly compo series devoted to remixing videogame music called “Dwelling of Duels“.
Hoodie: Oh wow. That’s when I discovered MM actually!
Didn’t realize DoD had been around that long tho.
Danimal: Since September of 2003. I didn’t find it until 2004 when this incredible month of entries happened.
I actually learned how do sweep picking specifically because of housethegrate’s track that month. It’s kind of cool that I can pinpoint the moment of inspiration.
Hoodie: Oh wow. Yeah, it really is!
Danimal: So at some point I started entering the competition myself. Two very critical things happened because of it:
1) You would submit anonymously and your tracks would be judged by your peers. My guitar playing and arrangements were decent but my production was bad and would get critiqued hardcore. Every month I would work super hard to get my mixes sounding better, sounding more “professional”. That critique is how I beefed up my audio engineer chops.
2) In order to cover the songs accurately I started dissecting the .NSF files of NES games where the musical data was stored. In the process I started learning a lot about old videogame audio hardware…
Hoodie: I feel like I know where this is going. ;)
Danimal: I was still of the mindset that NES music had awesome melodies but sounded weak compared to loud guitars and drums. It wasn’t until I saw people performing Game Boy music live that I realized that modern chipmusic doesn’t need to be remade into another format; it’s a completely badass medium unto itself.
When I finally had that realization, I already had the chiptune knowledge and background from covering game music to have a huge head start when I decided to start making my own Game Boy music.
Hoodie: Right. Do you remember who it was you saw live that gave you that revelation? Or was it no one specific, just the fact that people WERE doing it?
Danimal: The first I saw was Spamtron performing on the sidewalk outside of PAX; it was a concert series called Low Tek Resistance I believe. They had an amp hooked up to a car battery. It was punk as hell. A few months later I caught Zen Albatross absolutely destroying a club in Fredonia, NY. Those two shows made me *NEED* to start making my own Game Boy tunes.
Hoodie: There is something especially potent about live chipmusic. The raw energy of it, and just the pure bliss. It’s still surreal to me.
Danimal: It’s raw, harsh, yet incredibly precise. It satisfies so many little musical delights in my brain I never knew I had.
Hoodie: Funny how that works sometimes!
So about when did you start composing chip? I remember first encountering the one track, ‘Singularity’, on an Armcannon album, but I don’t remember which album/year.
Danimal: My memory gets a little fuzzy here. I started to experiment with chip sounds before I got into LSDJ. I’m pretty sure I was listening to a lot of Virt and Disasterpeace at the time. I was using 50% square waves and NES drum samples in FLStudio, looking back it was kind of a nightmare compared to the ease of LSDJ now. I did that one track (Singularity) for the 2nd Armcannon album, and one other one that not many people heard.
My FLStudio tinkerings and discovery of live chip music sort of coalesced into this career over time. It’s a little fuzzy how it all played out, but I was so inspired by the media I was taking in I couldn’t help but join in.
Hoodie: Was your first live chip performance at MAGFest 9? Or were there others before that?
Danimal: Nope, that was my first show! I guess I got a little lucky with the booking of that gig. I was already pretty established in the MAGFest world having performed with Armcannon and Metroid Metal so I was able to sneak on to that bill. In attendance were the folks who run 8static and they were inviting me out to Philadelphia after my first gig. I started to realize: “Hey, I might be on to something here”.
Hoodie: That MAG showcase was also my first live chiptune experience. The crazy things that have happened in both of lives because of that gig. haha
Danimal: You never know what show is going to change your life, man. Time and time again, I’ll play some absolutely lame show, but give it everything I’ve got anyways. Then someone who happened to be in attendance will provide me with some awesome opportunity in the future, I swear to god.
Hoodie: Dude, no fucking kidding, right? Life is weird. Enjoy the ride whenever you can.
Before we start talking about ‘Lunaria’, what drew you to LSDJ vs other methods of chiptune composition?
Danimal: The things that drove me to LSDJ was:
1) the portability.
2) a well developed scene infrastructure of tutorials, flash carts, PC Tools.
3) low startup cost— I already had a Game Boy, I was able to start gigging for under $150 getting a cheap mixer, cable, LSDJ, and a flash cart.
4) the new nasty sound of the wave channel combined with the familiar NES style pulse channels.
Hoodie: Fair enough reasons!
There’s a definite learning curve to LSDJ (I say as if I have any sort of mastery over it haha), but then again that’s true of most trackers. It really *is* its own instrument. Took me time to get that; took messing around with the software a little really.
Danimal: It is! But I’ve come to find out that even though they’re not as user friendly, a tracker interface lends itself to insane amounts of detail. Literally every note of a sequence can have a new instrument setting or expression tied to it! That’s difficult to do with modern “set and forget” instruments in a piano roll.
Hoodie: Huh. I guess that’s something that I hadn’t really thought of. Fascinating!
Danimal: A lot of the things about chiptune that I love are things I had to discover along the way; a lot of it isn’t obvious to the casual listener.
Hoodie: Makes sense.
Alright. ‘Lunaria’. Where do we start? I’ll go. It both is and isn’t what people are expecting. That fair? Or am I just trying to sound smart? ;)
Danimal: It’s a weird album. There’s a lot of styles going on; I took some chances. I guess it’s not relevant to me what people were expecting. These are the songs that represent my current skill level, gumption, and influences. Sure, now that the album is done and people are going to hear it, I hope it meets or exceeds their expectations. In fact, I hope I can surprise people, and in a good way. But while I’m writing I’m just trying to please myself, to make the songs that I can be satisfied with.
Hoodie: And I’m guessing you’re pretty satisfied with these, right?
Danimal: Yeah! I think I’ve got a wide variety of solid tunes. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be done with this album. You have to be your own worst critic.
Danimal: I have a threshold system: I listen to a new song or mix for a few days to a week. If there’s something that bugs me *every time* I listen to it, it’s gotta be fixed. I rewrote a guitar solo this way; I completely changed the vocal mix on another track. It works, if you can be objective about your own work.
Hoodie: That’s a damn tricky thing to do sometimes. haha
Danimal: It can be. Maybe that’s one of my super powers – to be able to tell when I’m not cutting the mustard.
So then by default everything else has mustard cutting abilities.
Hoodie: It’s a damn good super power to have.
Any specifics about ‘Lunaria’ that you’d like to share with our readers?
Danimal: It’s 55 minutes in length, which is apparently long? I’ve seen a few reviews mention the length and say “beware, this is a long album”. I don’t buy a couple bags of potato chips at the store when they’re on sale and say: “beware you may be getting too many chips for your money”.
I mean, I get it, but your throwaway song might be someone else’s favorite song on the album. We have skip buttons now.
Hoodie: Old fashioned ideas of what an album is, yeah. Those don’t fade very quickly.
Personally, I really like the inclusion of vocals on a few of the tracks. What prompted that move?
Danimal: There’s something cathartic about yelling about your problems over the top of loud guitars. My mind had been seething over the topic of information security and government surveillance for months. “Surveillance” is a loud angry song that came out of that. I’m not known for being a great singer, but most rock singers aren’t very good singers either. So I said “fuck it” and went for the gusto. I think it worked. I said I took some chances on this record, and this is one of them. It isn’t what anyone was expecting from me.
Hoodie: It sure surprised the fuck outta me! And honestly became one of my favorite tracks.
You talk about not being a great singer, but you use your voice *really* well on that song. Sometimes working really well within your limits is impressive in of itself. I have a sneaking suspicion I won’t be the only one saying that after people hear it either.
Danimal: Trent Reznor is an amazing vocalist, but he’d sound like a fool if he tried to sing the American National Anthem. Sometimes it’s about knowing what you’re good at and playing towards those strengths.
Got any favorites on the album? If so, why?
Danimal: Probably “Collision Event”. I tried really hard to make a mystical song that really takes you on a journey. There’s a recurring motif that gets presented in several different ways, each with a different feel. It’s the most dramatic and emotive song on the record.
Hoodie: Hah! That’s my favorite! Definitely the emotion of it that snags me. It’s especially potent.
Whole damn album is really good. I think the reception’s going to be pretty great. Even better than ‘Roots‘, which was one helluva debut! To throw a little unrestrained praise at you mid-interview. ;)
Danimal: Thanks! I hope so too! Not everybody is going to love it, but even the negative reviews note that I’m very good; they’re just not into it, which is fair. I put a lot of effort and detail into this album, and luckily, I think that shows despite a person’s musical taste. You can’t please everyone.
Hoodie: Nope. Accepting that fact is pretty important to being a successful artist on any level. Or maybe even a successful human being. haha
Danimal: I think one of the hardest things about being a chip musician is that nobody hears the music the way you do. They don’t know what crazy things you had to do to make that sound. They don’t know what weird piece of code inspired a whole section of music. I guess that’s why I did things like that TED Talk and YouTube tutorials, I just wanted a way to share with people why I’m so jazzed about this stuff.
I think it’s important to note that just because it was made on a Game Boy doesn’t make it cool. The music still has to be enjoyable for someone who knows nothing about it, because it sounds cool. That was one of my big goals with this record: it has to sound badass. The guitar helps, but I will say the whole craziness of chipmusic can add bonus points to an already enjoyable record.
Hoodie: Well said. And I think it’s something us folk *inside* the chip community don’t always consider regarding folk that are completely unfamiliar with chipmusic. At any rate, I feel like you definitely succeeded. And I’m excited to see everyone’s responses. =)
On that note, any final thoughts to share before we wrap this up?
Danimal: Just that I’m really proud of this record; the songs, the mix, and the artwork came together beautifully. I’m currently planning an Eastern US tour in June, so hopefully you’ll see me perform a few of these tunes at a show near you soon!
Hoodie: Would love nothing more, man! Best of luck with all of it. And thanks for taking the time to talk to me!
Editor’s note: pre-order ‘Lunaria’ (or purchase it if it’s after March 11th!) right here!